Not a Tame Lion

May 30, 2014

Aslan is the lion in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe – the central figure of the Narnia Chronicles. The name comes from the Turkish word meaning “lion.” C.S. Lewis was straightforward in claiming that this character is “a divine figure.” Aslan is a symbol of Jesus Christ.

Why choose a lion? In the great heavenly throne vision of Revelation 5, Jesus is identified as “the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David” (Revelation 5:5). The lion was the symbol of the tribe of Judah (Genesis 49:9). Strength and conquest are in the imagery of the lion.

One instructive scene in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is the conversation of Susan, Lucy, and Mrs. Beaver about Aslan. When Susan finds out that Aslan is the great Lion, she asks, “Is he – quite safe?” She’s afraid of being nervous when meeting him. Mrs. Beaver is not reassuring:

That you will, dearie, and no mistake … if there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or just silly.

Lucy then asks a follow-up question: “Then he isn’t safe?” Mrs. Beaver has a great reply:

’Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King I tell you.1

Lewis is illustrating the awe we should feel towards God and Christ. It’s a healthy reminder that they are in charge not us. God is the One who wields omnipotence and carries out His purposes. It’s a reminder that those who have had visions of the unseen were awestruck. Isaiah was keenly aware of his sinfulness and cried out “Woe is me.” The Apostle John “fell at his feet as though dead” when he saw the vision of Christ (Revelation 1:17).

Yet, the goodness is also present with the awesomeness. Isaiah received forgiveness, but he also received a new mission in life. John received the reassurance that Christ had conquered death. Great is God’s mercy. But the goodness is not necessarily safe, if we are thinking in terms of our own comfort. God is demanding. There is a cost to discipleship. An encounter with God should change us.

Underlying both passages is the great battle between good and evil. Isaiah’s message was repent or judgment would come. John must reassure Christians to “be faithful unto death” as they lived in a hostile environment. God is merciful, but to be outside that mercy is anything but safe.

Lewis was right. Trust in His goodness but approach with awe. He’s not a tame lion.

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1C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, p 86.

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Spread Your Wings and Fly!

May 23, 2014

A bird built a nest near our house. We often disturbed the mother bird, and she would squawk and fly away. But we knew that this would be fleeting. In a matter of weeks, the baby birds would spread their wings and fly away. Children take longer to leave the nest, yet eighteen years fly by us so quickly. There are times when years seem like weeks.

I don’t know whether birds have fears, hopes, pride, regrets as baby birds take wing, but humans do. Time marches by relentlessly. The pressures of work and paying the bills take their toll on every parent, even when we value family. Regrets of things you didn’t do occur even when there is a storehouse of good memories, because you know things will never be the way they were when they spread their wings and fly.

Parents are like the scaffolding around a building during construction. The scaffolding is the external brace during the instability of the construction phase. But it’s not intended as a permanent part of the plans.

When the external brace is removed, what will happen? Your parents won’t necessarily be around to get you up for class, work or church. You will decide your level of involvement in the church. You will decide more than ever before who your friends will be and who you will date. Faith is not inherited (Matthew 3:7-10). You will not spiritually survive on your parents’ faith. This will be a critical time for you. You must move beyond “what you believe” to “why you believe.” Your decisions will decide your direction. We must “commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified” (Acts 20:32, NIV).

Graduation is also an exciting time in your life—a time of transition. The end of Ecclesiastes has words for the young.

Follow the ways of your heart and whatever your eyes see, but know that for all these things God will bring you to judgment. (Ecclesiastes 11:9b, NIV)

Certainly, Ecclesiastes is not encouraging an unrestrained following of the heart. The admonition occurs within the context of following God’s morality because of His judgment. But this piece of wisdom recognizes it is when we are young that all of life is before you. Within the context of following God, the encouragement is to follow your heart—to follow your dreams. Congratulations on your graduation. Spread your wings and fly!


The Habit of Thanksgiving

May 16, 2014

N.T. Wright in his mammoth work on Paul notes the practice of thanksgiving in Christian living. He writes:

Thanksgiving isn’t just a way of being a bit less grumpy and a bit more cheerful. It is a habit of the heart which indicates the nature and particular shape of the worldview. It is closely associated with joy, which for Paul is one of the primary signs of the spirit’s
work.1

What kind of a worldview elicits this thanksgiving? It is the view that God is the creator of the universe. Because there is a creator, there is someone to thank.

Wright cites a wonderful quote from the rabbis on giving thanks to God.

On comets, and on earthquakes, and on lightning and on thunder, and on storms say, “Blessed [be He] whose strength and might fill the world.” On mountains, and on hills, and on seas, and on rivers, and on deserts say, “Blessed [is He] who makes the works of the beginning.” R’ Yehuda says, “One who sees the great sea says, ‘Blessed [is He] who made the great sea,’ only if he sees it occasionally.” On rain and on good news say, “Blessed is He who is good and does good.” And on bad news say, “Blessed [are You] the true judge.”2

When we turn to the Bible, some form of the word thank, thanks, or thanksgiving occurs 170 times. Thanksgiving peaks in the Psalms for the Old Testament, and it peaks in the New Testament in the letters of Paul (the high point in Paul is in 1 Corinthians). Looking at these many occasions of thanks instructs us on how to be thankful.

The wisdom of learning to be thankful is important. The nineteenth century hymn lyrics by Johnson Oatman, Jr. pictures learning to be thankful even in times of discouragement. Because God is our creator there is always something that the Lord has done for which we can be grateful.

When upon life’s billows you are tempest-tossed,
When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,
Count your many blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.

“A bit less grumpy and a bit more cheerful” is good way to be when it is deeply rooted in the view that God is my creator. It is not just a doctrine to add to the check list, but a practice to live. It is a habit of the heart, the habit of thanksgiving.

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1Paul and the Faithfulness of God, p. 412.
2Mishnah Berakhot 9:2


Praise and Thanks to Mothers

May 9, 2014

Anna Jarvis worked for a national Mother’s Day by starting a letter-writing campaign. Jarvis’s own mother had expressed a hope that a day to commemorate mothers would be established. Two years after her mother had died, Jarvis began her campaign. In 1914, Congress passed the legislation designating the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day. Many other countries have a special day for mothers although the date varies from country to country.

Giving thanks and praise to mothers has biblical roots. Proverbs contains the beautiful poem on the excellent woman (31:10-31). The poem depicts a grateful husband and children praising this excellent woman:

Her children rise up and call her blessed;
her husband also, and he praises her:

“Many women have done excellently,
but you surpass them all.”

Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain,
but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.

Give her of the fruit of her hands,
and let her works praise her in the gates.” (Proverbs 31:28–31, ESV)

Recently, someone drew my attention to Orations XVIII written in A.D. 374 by Gregory Nazianzus. The speech is for the funeral of Gregory’s father, but he praises his mother because she preceded his father in the faith and influenced him to the faith. He wrote:

She is a woman who while others have been honoured and extolled for natural and artificial beauty, has acknowledged but one kind of beauty, that of the soul, and the preservation, or the restoration as far as possible, of the Divine image…. The only genuine form of noble birth she recognized is piety, and the knowledge of whence we are sprung and whither we are tending…. To as great a degree has she, by her care and skill, secured the prosperity of her household, according to the injunctions and laws of Solomon as to the valiant woman, as if she had had no knowledge of piety; and she applied herself to God and Divine things as closely as if absolutely released from household cares, allowing neither branch of her duty to interfere with the other, but rather making each of them support the other.

Fitting on any day, but especially on Mother’s Day, is praise and thanks to mothers.


Angels Long to Look

May 2, 2014

Elizabeth was on her way to coffee in her Upper West Side neighborhood in New York City. She spotted it among the garbage bags set out for the morning collection. It was a canvas with red, purple, yellow, and grey. She walked past it at first.

But she would later tell that she just felt that she had to go back. It was a huge, powerful and beautiful painting. She believed it was wrong for it to be in the garbage, so she rescued it.

She hung the painting in her home. She appreciated it; it was not trash to her. But she was also curious. She did research on the Internet which led her to the truth. The painting was “Tres Personajes” by Mexican artist, Rufino Tamayo. It was a masterpiece stolen from a storage warehouse about decade and a half prior to Elizabeth finding it in the trash. Elizabeth returned the painting and was rewarded. The painting was expected to sell for a million dollars.

To someone it was trash. To Elizabeth it was a beautiful painting to hang on the wall. To the art experts at Southeby’s it was a very valuable piece of art. Sometimes it helps us to see something through another’s eyes. I suspect that is part of what Peter is doing in the following passage.

Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look. (1 Peter 1:10–12 ESV)

The prophets searched and carefully inquired. They knew that what lay ahead was valuable, but it was not for their generation. Christ’s sufferings and subsequent glories are for those of us on this side of the cross. But will we value this salvation? Will we set this treasure out with the trash, or will we recognize its profound worth and risk everything to have it? Prophets wanted what we now have. Will we share this salvation with the world that desperately needs it?

Sometimes we become discouraged when someone treats this treasure as trash. Peter reminds us of its value through the eyes of others. Salvation is so precious that even angels long to look.